New Trends in Hospitality Lighting Design

uchi sushi
RiNo’s new Uchi Sushi restaurant uses a concealed fixture to provide interest and glow without the harsh glare of exposed lighting. Courtesy Visual Interest


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Designing lighting for hospitality environments is ultimately about helping guests feel welcome and comfortable through creating a feeling of “home away from home.” But as demographics shift, hospitality brands have begun focusing on millennials and their preferences as well. Because millennials tend to travel a lot, are quick to jump on new technologies, like personalized interactions, and seek out new experiences, hospitality lighting is shifting with these trends.

mio stanley

Mio Stanley, EI
Project Designer, AE Design

A restaurant or hotel focused on this particular demographic might include a polished atmosphere, gourmet dishes and something unique a visitor can post or promote on social media. All of this, and the recent proliferation of LED options, has catalyzed a creative boom in lighting hospitality spaces with a number of clear trends emerging in 2019. Here are a few we find especially interesting.

steph kaltz

Steph Kaltz, IALD
Senior Lighting Design, AE Design

• Concealed fixtures. Creating an inviting atmosphere and drawing a visitor into and through a space has typically been achieved with an eye-catching, often sculptural lighting fixture. While this is still often the case, the growing popularity of LEDs has fueled an emerging interest in concealed fixtures. Whether an architect is looking to enhance interior finishes or highlight small architectural details to draw a visitor through a space, a concealed fixture provides interest and glow without the harsh glare of an exposed solution. It also puts the focus on the object it is highlighting as opposed to the light fixture itself. From ceiling coves and toe-kicks to bottle displays, there are a multitude of different concealed options, but what matters most is selecting the correct fixture for each application. LEDs offer many different types of tape extrusions and myriad combinations of optics with the smallest of apertures, but selecting which product is right for the application is key.

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Concealed linear lighting offers a multitude of design options, including this under-bar lighting effect at Boulder’s Hilton Garden Inn. Courtesy Lauren DeFilippo

• Linear lighting. Concealed linear lighting is also trending with a multitude of product options hitting the market with increasing refinement every year. Fully integrated back-bar illumination can enhance bottles and glassware on display appearing as if magically illuminated. A fixture tucked under a stair tread can be both functional and beautiful. Grazing (placing a light source almost flush with a wall to cast light up or down, emphasizing the wall’s texture) will create contrast and interest, while a linear up-light on the backside of a booth or banquette will create dimensionality in a space. All of these solutions will lead the eye around a space, creating the comfortable, warm, welcoming feeling we all seek out and desire.

• Polished, vintage looks. The rustic, industrial style of Edison-style filament lamps (bulbs) and festoon string lights used in hospitality projects in recent years are still popular, but may be beginning to wane. Rather than a raw, exposed look, many projects are beginning to lean toward more polished and vintage looks. Brassy finishes and glass shades with a slightly modern twist are now being featured in spaces with retro themes that speak to eras past.

• Integral LED lighting modules. With continued rapid advances in LED technology, numerous fixture options are now being offered with integral LED lighting modules in place of traditional screw-in sockets. This means we have more choices than ever when it comes to the shape and style of a fixture, allowing for more creative designs. There are a few caveats, though. With so many new offerings, it is important for designers to double check the light output and dimming compatibility of these fixtures. Fixtures with integrated LED modules can sometime provide more light than is desired on hospitality projects, so dimming may be necessary to fine-tune light levels. To dim fixtures appropriately, it is also important to verify the dimming compatibility and minimum dimming thresholds of specified fixture-dimmer combinations as not all LED fixtures speak the same dimming language, or dim equally among all dimmers.

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Published in the March 2019 issue of Building Dialogue.

Edited by Building Dialogue